Chris Packham was among the speakers when RSPB Rainham Marshes nature reserve hosted a Hen Harrier Day on 6 August, organised by Birders Against Wildlife Crime.
BAWC launched Hen Harrier Day in 2014 to raise awareness of the serious persecution suffered by these spectacular birds of prey. Despite full legal protection since the early 1950s, hen harriers remain absent from vast swathes of the UK. They are now almost extinct as a breeding species in England, primarily because of illegal persecution on intensively managed areas of upland grouse moor.
Hen Harrier Day has quickly become an annual fixture, growing from a single rally in the Peak District just two years ago to 12 events this year across the UK, including several events in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Four of the events will take place at RSPB reserves.
"It's not extremist, it's not political. It's purely about the continued illegal persecution of raptors."
Hen Harrier events took place across the country, organised by BAWC with support from the RSPB, broadcaster and conservationist Chris Packham and conservation activist Mark Avery. Chris and Mark were at the Rainham event along with the RSPB's Chief Executive Mike Clarke and BAWC's Charlie Moores.
In 2015, there were six successful nest sites in England, this year that's down to just three, despite there being enough habitat for more than 320; this is a species on the brink. The number of wintering hen harriers in the Thames Estuary has hugely declined, and their regular winter roosts at Rainham are sadly now a thing of the past.
Chris Packham says: "It's not extremist, it's not political. It's purely about the continued illegal persecution of raptors. We want it to stop, now, so please help spread awareness of their ongoing plight. Is it too much to politely ask for the law to be upheld and implemented?"
Mike Clarke, the RSPB's Chief Executive says: "We are committed to seeing this amazing bird of prey restored to its rightful place across the uplands of the UK. Tackling illegal killing of protected wildlife is an issue that is absolutely core to what the RSPB is for. We recently withdrew support from Defra's Hen Harrier action plan as that approach is failing to deliver. Time is not on the hen harrier's side and these Hen Harrier Day events send a strong message that we want our hen harriers back! I grew-up near Rainham and would regularly see some 30 hen harriers. around the Thames. We can and must get them back for future generations."
Charlie Moores says: "This event marked the start of a whole weekend of hen harrier rallies up and down the UK. The fact that our initial Hen Harrier Day has grown so quickly into a dozen events, all organised by passionate volunteers determined to raise the profile of this issue, demonstrates the strength of feeling people have about this wildlife crime. Our native wildlife should be allowed to thrive so we can all enjoy it for generations to come."
Mark Avery says: "Hen harriers are threatened by wildlife criminals solely because they eat the red grouse that people want to shoot for fun."
1. Hen Harrier Day 2016 attracts support from a wide selection of organisations and activists, including the Wildlife Trusts, the National Trust, the League Against Cruel Sports, the Peak District National Park, South West Peregrine Group, Birdwatch magazine, Rare Bird Alert, Bird Information, Birdguides, Welsh Ornithological Society and Quaker Concern for Animals. http://henharrierday.org
2. The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.
3. Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC) is an independent, volunteer-led campaign group set up in 2014 by birders and conservationists to raise the profile of the crimes being committed against wildlife. Our aim is to fight back, by making the processes of Recognising, Recording and Reporting wildlife crime as easy as possible ('the Three Rs'), putting 'eyes in the field' and highlighting wildlife crime and what the public thinks about it.